Music in Al-Andalus

Music has always been a contentious issue within Islam and many a debate surrounds around the validity of it. It was certainly not the case in Andalus.

The arriving new culture to the Iberian peninsula brought by Berber tribes, the Arabs and Muslims have been a new, fresh, different set of notes, rhythms and it continued to flourish well into the later centuries.  Music binds all cultures and  people and it was no different in Andalus. The Moorish settlers brought an intersection of Arabic poetry and  music to Southern Spain, the country that did not exist in its current form. (The land of Andalus included current Portugal and some part of Southern France as well).

The scholar Al-Kindi (800-877 CE) wrote on music theory, incorporating scales as an example of mathematical purity. He is also thought to have used the system of notations and called it musiqi.

It was, however, not until Ziryab arrived to Cordoba in 822 by the invitation of Abd Ar Rahman II., who became one of his closest friend, when music really started to fill the courts and the hearts of people. Ziryab came with a zeal, seeking more success than on his native land in Baghdad, he brought an enthusiasm for music and sophistication. (Apart from music, he was also a brilliant advocate of sophistication. You can read about his other achievements here: The King of Style in Andalus)

Very soon Ziryab became an influential member of upper class establishing his own music school in Cordoba and inventing a new form of music , the nubas. The nubas or naubas were an important Andalusian Arab music form that lives still today in the classical music of North Africa, known as maluf in Libya, Tunisia and eastern Algeria, and simply as andalusi music farther west. Ziryab created 24 nubas, one for each hour of the day, like the classical ragas of India. The nuba form became very popular in the Spanish Christian community and had a pronounced influence on the development of medieval European music. He also added an additional string to the ‘ud, making it more versatile. His schools were run for men and women and he introduced novel ways of teaching music.

Andalusian classical music was allegedly born in the Emirate of Cordoba in the 9th century. By the 10th century, Muslim Iberia had become a center for the manufacture of instruments. These goods spread gradually to Provence, influencing French troubadours and trouvères and eventually reaching the rest of Europe. The English words lute, rebec, guitar, and naker derive from the Arabic oud, rabab, qithara and naqareh.

Andalus was in a privileged position. The exchanges through the route from Samarqand through Baghdad, Damascus, Tunis, Fez and across the Straits of Gibraltar  facilitated a vibrant, invigorating trade not only with spices, gold or jewels but music, ideology and ways of thinking.

It is also possible that an early form of the violin arrived from Central Asia through Spain with other wind instruments and percussion coming from the east and Africa. The development of musical instruments possibly occurred without the Moorish occupation, but it can be argued that the Moors, and their rich culture, accelerated the acceptance and development of musical practices, spreading them throughout Europe.

Here is a selection of different styles and regions from the Iberian peninsula.









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